How your travel can benefit Nicaraguan social organisations

After two years living and travelling in Nicaragua I have seen that just by staying at certain hotels you support the education of needy children. And by eating in some restaurants you can provide jobs for adults with special needs. A number of tourist ventures in Nicaragua are now ‘social-enterprises’ which dedicate their profits to charities, or programmes that benefit the local community. But many of these ventures are not well publicized, and some towns seem to be missing out. I wonder if we could make a ‘portal’ or site where Nicaraguan social enterprises can easily be found?

You kayaking trip can benefit children’s education on Ometepe island

I work for a ‘‘Sister City’ programme  that regularly brings delegations of visitors to Nicaragua. There are many organisations who bring groups of visitors to this wonderful country, from  ‘Global Glimpse’ to brigades of deaf teachers, or Church Mission groups. Not forgetting  normal groups of tourists enjoying what the country has to offer. If each of these groups stayed in hotels which are Social Enterprises then we could bring large amounts of new income towards school and social programmes. I try to take my groups to one of these Five Favourite Places, but I also try to spend our hotel and restaurant budget in Social-enterprises.

A Social Enterprise is a company, like a hotel or a café or shop, which channels its profits to a non-profit or Non-Government Organisation (NGO). Across Nicaragua Social Enterprises are now raising large amounts of funding for poor communities and local charities. Let me give some examples…

I stayed at Hacienda Merida on Ometepe which was a great place to relax and  watch the sunset views. But the best thing was knowing that the profits go towards building a primary school for the local community. The hostal income allows them to build a new classroom each year. (the classrooms are built partly out of recycled bottles which is also beneficial). The owner, Alvaro Molina, began years ago with a dream. Now this self-supporting project has allowed the building of four well-equipped classrooms and dozens of children receiving a bilngual education. All paid for by the profits from happy travellers.

The lovely primary school supported by Hacienda Merida

Esteli is the town in Nicaragua that is best served by Social Enterprise hotels. Casa Vinculos is a lovely hotel that directly supports Fundacion Vinculos, which promotes Early Childhood Education. When I take delegations to Esteli we take over all nine rooms in Casa Vinculos and enjoy their good food and crafts shop whilst knowing that our funds benefit local children. Esteli also has the more upmarket Hotel Los Arcos, which supports a health centre, plus SONATI, and Hostal Luna which cater for the backpacker market and support environmental work and a mobile library.

Granada has Hotel Con Corazon  which supports education programmes. Hotel Con Coraon is interesting because its publicity positively emphasizes the social benefits supported and its name reflects this. Unfortunately since it is always booked up well in advance I have never stayed there, and so far I have not heard of a second similar hotel in the town. Since Granada is the heartland of tourism in Nicaragua, with over 100 hotels, I believe there is plenty of scope for more hotels that could be added to Hotel Con Corazon and take up more of this market segment.

NGOs and non-profits aim to encourage a love of reading for pleasure. Nicaraguan schools and homes have a major shortage of books

By contrast, in terms of social-profit hotels, Leon and Managua are disappointing. In Leon the SONATI hostal does good work with the backpacker crowd, raising awareness on environmental work. But in terms of a hotel, for better off clients, I don’t know of a single hotel in Leon or Las Peñitas or Poneloya that dedicates all its profits to social programmes.  Of course there are some hotels that will give a donation now and then to a charity. But I am talking about hotels that exist to raise funds for the social good. If you exist, then let the world know. I bring groups to Leon 4 times a year and would love to place visitors in a hotel on the model of Casa Vinculos or Casa con Corazon.

In Managua there are hundreds of hotels. Like Leon, if one exists like the examples above, then you don’t advertise widely enough. Hotel Europeo does support a foundation but it is not clear from the website what % of the profits goes to the charitable work. I would also love to know if a hotel with social benefit exists in San Juan del Sur or other towns.

Cafes and restaurants can also be Social Enterprises, such as the wonderful Cafe de Las Sonrisas in Granada, which employs deaf staff

The tourism sector can support more Social Enterprises – not only hotels but also restaurants, language schools and other services. Esteli has Café Luz which raises funds for the mobile library.  Granada has the wonderful Café de la Sonrisa  where deaf young people work. Also of course there are shops and crafts. In Granada there is a Hammock workshop next door to Café de la Sonrisa which provides  employment opportunities for differently-able young people. In Leon or Managua, is there anything similar?

To learn Spanish you can visit the Mariposa Language School. To climb  a volcano from Leon then go with  Quetzaltrekkers which raises funds through providing tours and guides. Quetaltrekkers provide funding for a range of Leon NGOs such as  Las Tias and NECAT, to pay the salaries of teachers and social workers in deprived areas of town.

If you want to climb a volcano, go with Quetsaltrekkers, who devote their profits to support NGOs such in Leon

So these tourist-orientated ventures are providing a great service. But they could be better known and there could be more of them. How could tourist-orientated social enterprises in Nicaragua be better publicized? I would love to find a one-stop shop where you could easily find information for every town in the country. How could this be set up?

My dream is to be able to always stay in social enterprise hotels when I bring groups here.  To spend most of our budget with services like Quetaltrekkers and mainly eat in cafes or restaurants like Café de las Sonrisas. Do you think that will be possible? And how could it be set up?

 

Photos by Steve Lewis. Follow Steve on instagram at @owstonlewis

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Help Stop The Passing of the NICA Act

American intervention is threatening progress in Nicaragua, and American friends & readers can help by contacting your senator. Please ask your them to vote against the NICA Act. Here is a link to find your Senator.

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Continued loans from global lenders are needed to build new school buildings in Nicaragua

 

Most expats living in Nicaragua enjoy the climate, food and culture and are friends with Nicaraguan neighbours and colleagues. We see that the country is slowly but steadily reducing poverty, and we enjoy the peace and stability the country enjoys. The country has problems, of course, like anywhere, but only Nicaraguans themselves can sort those problems out. Although the country is still the poorest in Latin America, the economy is growing at a rate of 4.5% p.a. and the rate of crime is only a fraction of that in neighbouring Honduras and El Salvador. These are important achievements.

But this stability and growth is threatened by interference from the USA. In October the US Congress approved the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act, known as the NICA Act. If approved by the Senate the NICA Act could see the US block all major international lending institutions from lending to Nicaragua. Institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank will be blocked from giving loans that fund improvements in roads, ports, electricity and other infrastructure.

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World Bank loans are used to improve infrastructure, such as these storm drains

 

You can put an end to this interference in Nicaraguan affairs by writing to your senator. Ask him or her to vote against the passing of the NICA Act. If the act is passed it will reverse the progress Nicaragua has made in the last few years and will end the improvements we have seen in roads and infrastructure. Schools and health facilities would become even more run-down – so the effect of choking off loans will make life harder for the poorest.

Just yesterday the World Bank, meeting in Granada, Nicaragua, approved a loan of over $400 million for Nicaragua. Over the last three years loans averaged around $100 million a year, but over the next three years that will increase to about $150 million p.a. The World Bank said that this is because previous loans have been carried out efficiently and on-time, by the government and the private sector working together, and with good accounting.

The NICA Act has met with near unanimous condemnation in Nicaragua from the government, the National Assembly, the Private Sector, almost all political parties, and most religious leaders. The Organisation of American States (OAS) electoral mission that was in Nicaragua for the elections last November described the Act as ‘Counter-productive’.

Mural in Managua. Nicaragua has unhappy memories of USA intervention in the 1980’s

If you are from the USA please email, ring or write to your senator now.  Phone number is (1 202) 224 3121, and using skype or a similar package this will hardly cost you a dime.

If you have never lobbied your representative before you can get good advice from RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy agency. I used to work for RESULTS in the UK, and our representatives were always happy to receive polite emails or phone-calls from constituents. Here is a link to find your Senator.

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Long-term investments from lenders will improve rural transport & reduce poverty

 

And this link gives you excellent advice from RESULTS. about advocacy (in general) in the USA.

For those readers who are not from the USA you can still help by signing the petition on the link at Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and Change.Org

So –  Use your vote, use your voice, tell your senator you live here and have an opinion. Please let us know how you got on, using the Comments Box below.

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Mural shows that Nicaragua doesn’t want interference in their affairs from the USA (or others)

 

Community Tourism in Nicaragua – Get Off the Beaten Track & Do Good!

 

As the sun came up I lay in bed listening to the howler monkeys in the forest…after a delicious ‘tipica’ breakfast with our host family we had a great walk through the coffee fields up to the rain-forest in the hill-tops. We saw sloths, oriole birds, wonderful butterflies and Nicaragua’s national bird, the guardabaranco. Community tourism in San Ramon allows farmers to diversify their farm-income and encourages all the community to preserve the environment. It’s a win-win for tourists and the local community together’.

Stay in local houses amidst the lovely nature of La Reyna, San Ramon

Although Nicaragua is still the second poorest country in Latin America, tourism is booming, with around 5% annual growth in recent years, supported by Nicaragua’s excellent record of peace and safety, and a growing economy. According to the World Tourism Council 2017 report tourism contributed $720 million in direct revenue to the country, amounting to around 5.3% of GDP in 2016. Tourism makes up nearly 4% of total employment, or 100,000 people. So things are looking good.

But there are flies in the tourism ointment. Land on the pacific coast is now selling for inflated prices and being snapped up by foreign buyers. Tourism is concentrated in two or three small areas of the country. Granada and San Juan del Sur are over-touristed, and are losing some of their Nicaraguan culture.  Much of the tourism industry is owned by large companies, and eventually by non-Nicaraguan private sector.

There is a way for tourists here to get off the beaten track, and see the real Nicaragua, by visiting rural villages and cooperatives that run community tourism initiatives. Community Tourism and Eco-tourism are ways to experience rural life, stay with local people and help preserve the environment. According to Martha Honey, author of Who Owns Paradise?, ‘ecotourism is travel to fragile and often protected environments, that strive to be low-impact and small-scale. It helps educate the traveller, provides funds for local conservations, directly benefits the economic development of local communities and fosters respect for different cultures’.

 

Community and locally owned tourism contributes more to a country than large scale package tours or high-end hotel chains. Globally the tourism sector that contributes least to local economies is the cruise-liner sector. It is estimated that if you buy a cruise-holiday, 90% of your total spending stays in the country of origin. Whereas back-packers, and low-impact travellers in Central America spend 80% of their total spend in the region.

When you are travelling in Nicaragua try to get away from the Southern ‘tourist-triangle’ (Granada –Ometepe-San Juan del Sur) and visit some of the small towns and rural nature areas. Travel on your own or, if you are in the USA or UK, sign up with a small group trip run by one of the  Sister-cities such as Gettysburg-Leon  or one of the Nicaragua solidarity groups. Here are five great ecotourism recommendations that we have enjoyed in the last 18 months:

1/ Stay with a rural family, Miraflor nature reserve, outside Esteli.

Beautiful countryside, nice hiking, and lovely waterfalls. Google UCA Miraflor Tourism to arrange to stay with a local family, and to go horse-riding or bird watching. Prices are very reasonable, at around $20 per day with meals included. By travelling on public transport you help to keep your environmental footprint low. Tourists who show their love for nature encourage local communities to preserve the forests.

2 / Volunteer in exchange for reduced lodging rates.

In Rancho Esperanza, on Jiquilillo beach in Chinandega, you can stay for a couple of months or longer and really contribute to the life of the local community. (It’s beautiful too). Volunteers work in a Kids Club with children. If you can’t stay that long you are still encouraged to support the local community by taking ‘tours’ such as line fishing, kayaking, or learn to climb a coconut tree.

3/ Somoto Canyon

The author, floating gently through Somoto Canyon

Somoto canyon is a must-do in Nicaragua, an adrenalin rush that will provide you with some of your best memories. Somoto is in Northern Nicaragua, so helps to get tourists to explore much-less visited part of the country. You can stay the night near the canyon, and make sure you use local guides with a good reputation. We have always taken groups with Henry Soriano, of Somoto Canyon Tours,  who are highly recommended for a friendly service with a good commitment to safety.

4/ Support Cooperatives

Around the country look out for the system of ‘co-manejo’ where local communities have joint control of natural resources with MARENA the ministry for the environment. In Las Peñitas, a beautiful fishing community outside Leon a cooperative of 12 local people  offer tours of Isla Juan Venado and the mangrove swamps. Between July and December they protect the eggs of endangered turtles, and at any time of the year you can stay the night in rustic cabinas on a very isolated beach.

In Las Peñitas and Jiquilillo community groups protest the endangered baby turtles

5/ Fair trade coffee villages

There is a wide range of options on offer, well-marketted throughout the North. Ask in any hotel around Esteli, Matagalpa, Jinotega and the Segovias.

In San Ramon a series of small villages and struggling cooperatives eke out a living from coffee production. After tough times under the right-wing government in the 1990s the co-ops have been supported to improve their incomes by CECOCAFEN  an umbrella body. The co-ops have now improved their shade-grown coffee, are moving to organic status, and have started homestays and visitor programmes. Support the fair-trade coffee villages and stay in a beautiful mountain community, enjoy fresh-roast home-grown coffee, and also visit gold-mines, viewpoints, cloud-forest, all the time surrounded by monkeys, sloths and butterflies.

For more information on all these areas the Moon Guide book is an excellent source of information. In this blog post they also recommend five rural cooperatives that get consistently high reviews  http://moon.com/2015/06/enjoy-sustainable-tourism-in-nicaragua/. Check them out and soon you’ll have your own list of favourites to share.

 

Please follow my Instagram page for more photos of beautiful Nicaragua – owstonlewis

Which are your favourite recommendations for low-impact tourism in Nicaragua or other countries you want to share? Please use the comments box below to share your recommendations.

Gallery: Las Peñitas, a beautiful Nicaraguan beach & fishing village

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Dusk over the estuary

Dusk over the estuary

Still morning

Still morning

Gutting the catch

Gutting the catch

Dawn on the beach

Dawn on the beach

Grandpa, mending the nets

Grandpa, mending the nets

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays (crab soup)

Las Rocas at Las Peñitas

Las rocas at Las Peñitas

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

A heron stalks breakfast

A heron stalks breakfast

Community tourism

Community tourism

A good catch

A good catch

A hint of black and white

A splash of colour

And a splash of colour

 

 

The Heat in Leon

There are two things that have dominated my life in my first few months in Nicaragua. One is the new technology I have inherited, my struggle to stay sane in the world of fragile laptops and weak wifi. The other is the heat in Leon. The all-encompassing, cloying, debilitating heat that surrounds us.

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Leon cathedral, empty streets in the heat of the day

I arrived in January, and it was hot. Hot so you soon learned not to walk in the sun, hot so I wilted by mid-afternoon. Hot but just about manageable. But since then the heat has been building. In March and April the heat has been unbearable, as we build up to the rainy season. In April, the hottest month, the temperature crept from 36 degrees, to 37, 38 and several times up to 40 centigrade. In that temperature you just melt.

In Leon there are only two cooler hours of the day – from 5 am to 7am. If you want to go for a walk you have to get up at dawn. In the day, if you have to walk, you jump from shadow to shadow. If I walk to the shops with my wife, we walk in single file, hugging the edge of the buildings, searching for a sliver of shade. We walk, avoiding the sleeping dogs, the rubbish and the sudden potholes, and even the shade is hot.

Unlike most offices in Nicaragua, my office has no air-conditioning. We can’t afford it. In the mornings we manage, with a plethora of fans strategically positioned by each desk. By mid-afternoon our productivity plummets. I sit, with rivulets of sweat dripping down my back. My shirt clings to my skin. Not a great look as I try to exude authority.

The office has a shower. Sometimes I shower in the middle of the day, and just stand there afterwards, no towel, for two or three minutes till I am dry. Arriving home after work, the first thing I do is throw off my wringing clothes and shower, if there is water, in the lukewarm flow of Leon’s water system. At least here no-one needs a heated shower. You can shower four or five times a day – but a few minutes afterwards you are just…hot!

We bought a fan for our little apartment – it just pushes the hot air around. At the moment, living here is like living under a hair dryer. Roll on the rain, I say. I hope then it will get a little cooler. But in fact they say it just becomes wet and hot instead. Wet, hot, humid, like a Turkish bath. Will a change be as good as a rest? But Nicaragua needs the rain, after the last two very dry years. Last week we had a few storms, with the inevitable power cuts they bring. The mood is changing in the streets. Are people now carrying parasols or are they carrying umbrellas?

The photos below show how I am coping with the climate…

January

February

February

March

March

April

April

Gallery: Birds on Costa Rica trip ; Pajaros en viaje recien a Costa Rica

Yellow bird eating

Feeding on insects

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Hummingbird with tongue extended

Purple humming bird on branch

Purple hummingbird

Mummingbird coming towards

Hummingbird in flight

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‘Poor mans umbrella’

Little brown bird

Costa Rican Sparrow?

Yellow window bird from behind

Terrific to be able to get close to these little ones…

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Catching the forest sunlight

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Collared Redstart (Adult)

 

Yellow bird tufty red head

Adolescent collared redstart. You can tell the adolescents as they use brillcream on their tufty heads

Yellow plant & river

Forest vegetation

 

Chronicle of a death foretold

In my first couple of months in Nicaragua I have spent time in the Northern hills. To the North I could see rolling mountains in neighbouring Honduras. But while Nicaragua today is peaceful, our next-door country is sadly wracked by violence, some of which comes from efforts to protect the land and the environment. Today’s blog is a Guest Blog by my friend Mary Durran.

CHRONICAL OF A DEATH FORETOLD

Funeral of Berta Caceres

Funeral of Berta Caceres

 

Berta Cáceres had received so many death threats, due to her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam, that she knew it was only a matter of time.  Her security routine was elaborate, rotating around the houses of friends.  Not even her father knew her whereabouts. But it was not enough. Berta was murdered on 3rd March by unknown assassins.

 

 

I met Bertha at a conference in Tegucigalpa in 2013.  She spoke with passion.  Reeling from the murder of Rigoberto Hernandez, a grassroots leader who had opposed an iron ore mine in western Honduras, and whose body was found with his tongue ripped out, Berta said then that she was prepared to fight until the end.

Berta was a leader of the Lenca indigenous people of Honduras, who make up about 8% of the Honduran population. The Lenca mainly live in poverty, and those who do not have land have to work precarious odd-jobs for dollar-a-day wages.  They need land to grow food and preserve their lifestyle and dignity.

Funeral of Berta CaceresBerta was a pioneer in the movement to defend the ancestral lands of the Lenca from mega projects funded by international capital.  Her murder has been interpreted as a sombre warning for other defenders.

“Her murder shows the vulnerability of people and organizations struggling for human rights and the defence of natural resources, and against the handover of our national sovereignty,” said Fr. Ismael Moreno, director of the Fundacion ERIC.

Honduras was identified as the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental defender, with the highest murder rate of environmental activists, by Global Witness last year.   Since 1998 Honduras has opened up to international mining companies, introducing legislation that puts the interests of the investor before those of communities and the state.  Such policies intensified after the 2009 coup d’etat and the subsequent government which came to power in fraudulent elections.

Indigenous woman at funeralHonduras has also received funds from international climate funds which seek to promote clean energy.  Investments include hydro-electric projects, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, or poor peasant communities.  But in most cases, the Honduran government has failed to consult the indigenous before launching projects on their lands.  Neither does the government offer any relocation packages to those whose lands are grabbed, or those who water supplies are ruined by the dams.

 

The life and struggle of Berta Caceres will not be in vain. In death, she is even bigger than she was in life.  The Dutch FMO bank that was funding the Agua Zarca dam has suspended operations.  Berta has already become an icon for women leaders and those who struggle to protect the environment.  As Honduran protesters chanted at her funeral,  Berta vive!  La lucha sigue!. Berta lives, the struggle continues!

Women w flag, at funeral

 

Guest Blog by Mary Durran. Mary and I worked in the 1980’s for the Central America Human Rights Committees. See https://durranmary.wordpress.com/ for more news on Latin American issues.

Informacion en español – https://www.oxfam.org/es/sala-de-prensa/notas-de-prensa/2016-03-04/oxfam-rinde-homenaje-la-defensora-de-los-derechos-humanos?utm_source=oxf.am&utm_medium=Zh7j&utm_content=redirect

http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/433-16

Photos from Radio Progreso, Honduras

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